Robert Greene: Down By The Laws
In the beginning, there were rumblings about The 50th Law being a dumbed down rehash of Greene's earlier work. Nothing more than "The 48 Laws for Dummies," so to speak. But that seems unfair to 50 Cent. Love him or hate him, he went from crack dealer, to mixtape kingpin to cultural icon, to Vitamin Water mogul in the blink of an eye. It would be foolish to ignore that. In truth, that is far from the case. The 50th Law is a fusion of two great strategic minds (50 Cent and Greene) that were born from totally different places: Greene is white, 50 Cent is black. Greene comes from an upper-middle class neighborhood, the other comes from Queens, New York poverty. Yet, they see the approach to victory in life quite the same. Through these men, you can learn to overcome fear of your enemies, fear of your own success and possibly even embrace the inevitability of your death. If the intention succeeds, you will learn to think and act like a king.
In this interview, HipHopDX talks to the man who teamed with 50 Cent to create a masterpiece of tactical and strategic philosophy. Here we talk about how Greene's early fans took to this book, President Obama's first year in office and gives us a glimpse of his next move on the chessboard of life.
HipHopDX: How did your traditional fan base respond to you teaming with 50 Cent for The 50th Law?
Robert Greene: Very positively. There were some people who were very skeptical. There was about 30% of my readers who were writing me before the book came out. "Why are you doing this?" and all that. A lot of those people have been writting me that they were very surprised. That it wasn't the book that they were expecting. They thought it was going to be a book about Hip Hop, or 50 [Cent]. So, I won over the crowd that skeptical about the idea. Its been positive and I can't complain.
DX: One of the things I feel like I learned from this book was the art of being ruthless. How important do you think knowing how to be ruthless is?
Robert Greene: It's not a good quality. I don't promote ruthlessness for its own sake. Everything depends on the situation. Ruthlessness implies doing anything that you do to get to your goals.
Ruthless implies an emotional approach to life where you can't control your ambitions and I'm not in favor of that. I say in all of my books that [the ruthless] kind of mindset has limits. You're going to make a lot of enemies. You might do well in the short term. But in a world where everything is interconnected, I want people to be intelligent and rational. Let that guide you.
DX: All of your books have been best-sellers. What is the most unlikely letter you got some someone who used your perspectives on power, seduction and war to their advantage?
Robert Greene: That's interesting, I get all kinds of reactions. One was a woman who worked on Wall Street, she got laid off during the period of the [financial] crash. She went and re-read the 48 Laws chapter on boldness, [which analyzes] Christopher Columbus. [It argues that] you must act like a king to be treated like a king. By using that law, she was able to talk her way into a really amazing job. Now she's saying that its a little difficult to perform and deliver now that she has arrived.
I got another letter from a guy in Toronto. He was at a job he really hated. He's now launching his own venture. He's only 23, so he has less to lose. But his story as an immigrant, coming to Canada and all that, telling me how he came to The 50th Law. That letter... was very inspiring.
Then there is a man in England who used The 48 Laws. If you are a nobody, you attack someone who is very famous. You can start your career that way. He did this by writing a series of letters to newspapers about somebody. He disliked this person immensely. The letters he sent got him some notoriety and a publishing deal. So, those are some of the stories that I find amazing.
But then, there was a guy who told me he used the 48 Laws to take over his cell block in prison. I'm not really sure how I feel about that. [Laughs]
DX: The first time I interviewed you, you had just addressed some students at West Point on the issue of terrorism. This was before President Obama had won the election. Now that Obama has been at the helm for a while, what are your thoughts on The President's perspectives on Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan?
Robert Greene: Well it's all really complicated and hard to summarize in a sound-byte. I know that's not what you are asking. But the complexities of the things that he inherited make it so that's easy as an armchair-quarterback to be saying things. But I'm very sympathetic to what he's going through. For instance, with Afghanistan, he's inherited a pretty impossible situation. It's not just the fact that he has to get out of there. Even if he does believe he can make a major blow against Al-Quaida, he's dealing with the American military, which has interests that are not on his side, [such as very complicated generals]. He's dealing with a complicated political situation in Pakistan and India. So, I think he's fundamentally making a mistake. I'm not going to get off my original position - one that I have held for eight, nine, or 10 years, which is that we're falling into the trap that the terrorists set.
It's not that we're going to repeat what the Soviets did in the 1980s. I don't think history repeats itself that closely. It's more that we have so many problems right now and so few resources. There is not a clear idea of what we are doing there. I understand the risks and the dangers and the political ramifications associated with getting out of Afghanistan. It's not easy, even if I were the President, it wouldn't be easy.
That all said, I think we should be making out way out of Afghanistan and figuring out a different solution for the political problems of Pakistan and not linking them together [with Afghanistan]. We should focus on the tremendous domestic issues that will destroy this country in the next 20 years if we're not careful.
I'm sympathetic to Obama and I think people are way too hasty. You have to give him time. He is growing into the job. He's a young man, but he is very smart. I don't want to write him off. But on this one issue I think he is doing the wrong thing.
DX: What do you think is the smart way? Recently there have been talks of the U.S. doing strikes in Yemen. I don't think new strikes on a new country will help.
Robert Greene: I don't know. You can discuss tactical stuff. But I don't have the intelligence in front of me that the President has. So it gets to a point where you can't discuss anything effectively. But the larger philosophical and strategic issue, it's been shown throughout history and by people who understand the strategy of terrorism that the military option, is like [the arcade game] Whack-A-Mole. You might whack the mole. But then three more pop up. In the end, it's a political problem. So its one that has to be met with restraint. It's very hard when the Republican Party gets so overheated. They always want to break out the weakness card for Democrats.
In general , the business with Yemen, or when it was [President] Clinton bombing Sudan, it seems as if its for domestic purposes. Or it's almost to shut up Republicans. Or, its to feed the American public's need for instant answers. It's a many-headed hydra. Just trying to bomb a few people in Yemen, it's just so pointless. We have to look after our own house right now, for so many reasons.
DX: You've written a arguably the greatest series of comprehensive strategy books in recent history. Whats next for Robert Greene?
Robert Greene: I've already sold my next book and I'm currently working on it. It's a little different. I'm looking at the landscape of the world and the United States. I'm concerned that the problem people have, besides issues of strategy and power, is that we're lacking creative ways of thinking about solving problems. A lot of it comes from distractions we have in our daily life. Some of it is negative effects of technology. But some peple are not able to focus on larger pictures. To think in terms of several years and to learn a skill and learn it well. So, this book is meant to the be the ultimate formula for power.
Very creative people have been able to see the same things everybody else sees. But from within, they see there is a new way of looking at it. I'm creating a book to show you how these kinds of people think. From within, if you are able to adapt to the process, this new way of approaching the world, it would radically alter your actions and your success. I hint at it in The 50th Law in chapters seven and eight. I kind of pointed the way to what I'm doing. The idea of being intimately connected with something to that I call the "Mastery of Process." That's the next step.
Adisa Banjoko is a pioneer Hip-Hop journalist and founder of the Hip-Hop Chess Federation. For more info visit www.twitter.com/hiphopchess.